Between 1865 and 1900 the United States emerged as a Power on the world stage, and took her place among the leading nations of the world. This path involved the expansion of sea power, or naval power. The U.S. asserted itself in Latin America, the Caribbean and the Pacific.


During the Civil War, while the United States was preoccupied, Mexico was unable to repay money it had borrowed from Britain, France and other European countries. Napoleon III, emperor of France, decided to collect. He sent warships and 100,000 French soldiers to Mexico, and installed a puppet ruler as emperor of Mexico. During the French occupation the Mexicans won a battle against the French on May 5th. It is celebrated as the Cinco de Mayo celebration. Lincoln's secretary of state was William Seward. Andrew Johnson inherited him. In Feb. 1866, a year after the North finished with the Civil War, the U.S. secretary of state had some advice for the French ambassador. He informed him that if the French did not withdraw from Mexico on their own, the United States would intervene to help them leave. For all practical purposes, the US presented France with an ultimatum: get out or we will put you out. General Sheridan was dispatched to the US border with Mexico with 50,000 troops to make the point. France took the hint, and got the message. In spring 1867 the French withdrew. Archduke Maximilian evidently thought his royal Habsburg blood made him invulnerable, or that he was invincible, and he did not have the good sense to leave with the French. He was captured by the forces of Benito Juarez, the Mexican patriot leader. To make an example of Maximilian, so that no European power or princeling would contemplate repeating the re-colonization of Mexico, Maximilian was executed before a firing squad in June 1867.


For centuries Hawaii had been an independent nation. During the 19th century trade ties between the US and Hawaii blossomed. In 1887 Hawaii agreed to permit the US the exclusive right to maintain a fortified naval base at a place called Pearl Harbor. In 1891 King Kame-ha-meha died. He had been friendly toward the U.S. However his successor was his daughter, Queen Liliu-okalani (Lil). She disliked the influence of the Americans, especially the Americans who had bought up land in Hawaii and used it to grow sugar cane and pineapples on plantations with native and Japanese immigrant labor. She wanted Hawaii for the Hawaiians, and disliked the sugar growers in particular.

To this situation was added a domestic economic event. The McKinley Tariff of 1890, in the US, removed all tariffs on sugar, to benefit American consumers. This was a cheap and plentiful sugar policy. However, to protect American sugar producers in Louisiana from foreign competition, Congress also gave American sugar producers a subsidy or bounty of 2 cents per pound of sugar. American domestic sugar production soared, and the price plummeted from $100 per ton of sugar to $60 per ton. The Hawaiian sugar producers, as foreign producers, were not eligible for the subsidy and were hurt by the ruinous decline in prices. For American producers, the loss was offset somewhat by the subsidy.

Under these circumstances, the American sugar planters in Hawaii, led by Sanford B. Dole (of pineapple fame), conspired to overthrow Queen Lil and seek annexation by the US so that they in Hawaii could become part of the territory of the US and then they could get the sugar subsidy or bounty. The motivation on the part of Dole and his partners was very much financial. In fact there was a conspiracy and official connivance between Dole and the American ambassador to Hawaii, one John Stevens. At the appointed time, in Jan 1893, Stevens requested 150 American marines to land in Honolulu, from the cruiser Boston (Tindall and Shi, p. 902). We are told that this was done at Stevens's own initiative, without prior official authorization from Washington. Perhaps Stevens was a rogue element. In any case, Queen Lil was deposed by the American sugar planters in Hawaii in Jan. 1893, and Dole proclaimed a provisional government. However the new American president, Grover Cleveland, a Democrat, inaugurated in March 1893, a Democrat, opposed the subversion of an independent country. He blocked all efforts at annexation during his term, through 1896, and therefore Dole's efforts at annexation were frustrated. He proclaimed the Republic of Hawaii in the interim, while waiting for anew president who might be more favorably disposed toward an active foreign policy in the pacific.

William McKinley, elected in Nov. 1896, favored annexation. In June 1897 McKinley presented a treaty to the Senate for the annexation of Hawaii. But treaties require a two-thirds vote for approval. McKinley could NOT win the necessary two-thirds. Therefore, as had been the case with Texas, the rules were stretched (not bent, just messaged). The president settled for a joint resolution of both houses of Congress, which requires only a simple majority vote. In July 1898 Hawaii was declared annexed to the US, as part of the territory of the US. The conduct of foreign policy involves the exercise of power: for better or worse, richer or poorer, wiser or sadder. History involves questions of power. In 1893 the American sugar interest had more power, and by 1897 Hawaii was a territory of the U.S. If the world is carnivorous, and if there are predators and prey, the harsh reality is that if the US had not asserted control over Hawaii then Britain or France or Germany or Japan or some other powerful nation on the make and on-the-prowl would have done so. McKinley felt that it was better for the Us of Hawaii was in our hands rather than in someone else's hands. in retrospect, the chief rival and contender eventually would have been Japan. McKinley was acting to advance the interests of the US as he understood them. Advancing one's interests may mean maximizing power and influence, and projecting power and influence. History is not a charity, and it is not a benevolent institution. History involves the pursuit of power and interests, whether economic or financial or military or territorial or technological or whatever.


In the 1890s the moribund Spanish Empire was on its deathbed. But Spain still held Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippine islands in its colonial grip. In 1895 the Cubans revolted, seeking independence. Spain sent an army to crush the uprising. The Spanish government vacillated. Loyalists wanted the Spanish government to drown the rebellion in blood. The revolutionaries wanted independence. The Spanish Government was damned if it did, and damned if it didn't. In January 1898 there was rioting in Havana. The US sent the battleship Maine to Havana Harbor to protect American life and property. Americans had $50 million invested in Cuba, and annually imported $100 million worth of sugar. Turmoil jeopardized those investments. At the same time, some Americans genuinely sympathized with the cause of the Cubans and saw the Cuban rebellion as akin to the American revolt against George III. It was just Spanish colonialism rather than British. The Spanish general, Valeriano Weyler, aroused the wrath of US public opinion by the use of concentration camps in which perhaps 200,000 Cubans died of disease and malnutrition (Enduring Vision, p. 688).


Meanwhile the media fanned the flames of discord between the U.S. and Spain. This sensational reporting was called the Yellow Press, and jingo journalism. William Randolph Hearts published the Journal, and Joseph Pulitzer published The World. Like broadcasters today, they constantly sought to out-do one another with the most dramatic headlines and stories and the latest and most lurid breaking news. Hearst's paper included a popular color cartoon character, a kid, dressed in a bright yellow gown, called the Yellow kid. The cartoon strip gave its name to the "Yellow Press."


On Feb. 15, 1898 the battleship Maine exploded in Havana harbor. A naval inquiry in 1898 concluded that an underwater mine had caused the explosion. Two hundred and sixty-six American crewmen were killed. The press put two and two together and gave the public the headline "Spanish mine." Public opinion turned toward US intervention in the Cuban conflict, and war.

In February, anticipating the likelihood and perhaps inevitability of war, the assistant secretary of the navy sent a secret message to the Asiatic squadron, stationed at Hong Kong. The asst. secretary of the navy was one Theodore Roosevelt. The commander of the Asiatic squadron was George Dewey. The message instructed Dewey to keep his forces intact and, if war broke out, to engage the Spanish in the Philippine islands.

On April 20, 1898 Congress adopted a resolution in which the US recognized the independence of Cuba, demanded that Spain withdraw its forces from Cuba, and empowered the President to send US troops to Cuba to secure Spanish compliance with the request for evacuation of Spanish troops. The US also disclaimed any desire for sovereignty over Cuba. The same day, the US presented Spain with an ultimatum, to recognize the independence of Cuba and withdraw or face US military intervention.

On April 21st Spain broke diplomatic relations with the US. On April 22nd the US began a naval blockade of Cuban ports to stop Spanish ships from entering Cuba; on April 24th Spain responded by declaring war, and on April 25th the US returned the favor.

On April 24th, when Spain declared war on the US. Dewey was ready. He steamed from Hong Kong to the Philippines, and on May 1st his squadron of 4 cruisers and 2 gunboats destroyed all 10 of the Spanish ships. Spain lost 381 men, the US suffered 8 men wounded and no ships suck. The Filipinos were already engaged in guerilla war against the Spanish, who at this point controlled little more than the city of Manila. In August the Spanish forces in Manila surrendered, and the Americans occupied Manila.

Roosevelt resigned as asst. secretary of the navy so that he could participate in the war as a soldier. In July he took part in the Battle of San Juan Hill, in Cuba, and his Rough Riders prevailed. The Spanish (Pascual Cervera, 4 cruisers and 3 destroyers) tried to break through the American naval blockade (William T. Sampson and Winfield Schley), and the Spanish fleet was destroyed. On July 17th the Spanish garrison in Cuba surrendered. 379 Americans died of battle injuries, but more than 5,000 died of food poisoning, malaria, yellow fever and disease.

A treaty of peace was signed at Paris (The Treaty of Paris) in December 1898. Spain surrendered all claim and title to Cuba and agreed to assume the liability for the Cuban debt of $400 million (Richard B. Morris, Encyclopedia of American History). As indemnity, or payment for damages and the cost of the war, Spain ceded Puerto Rico and Guam to the U.S. The US gave Spain $20 million for the Philippines.( see also Enduring Vision, p. 690). The cost of the war, for the U.S., was $250 million. Navy, at start of war (24,000 men and 2,000 officers): army, 2100 officers and 28,000 men. Congress authorized raising size of regular army to 60,000, and 200,000 volunteers. At least 17,000 Rough Riders, and 10,700 in Philippines.

The Treaty of Paris was narrowly ratified in the Senate, by a vote of 57-27, in Feb. 1899. This was two votes more than the two-thirds majority needed for ratification. The United States considered annexing the Philippine Islands or keeping them as a colony. It rejected the idea of an independent Republic of the Philippines because it believed that in a Hobbesean and Spencerean world, in a predatory world of survival of the fittest, the Philippines would be partitioned (divided up) or devoured by other Powers on the prowl, such as Britain, France, Germany and Japan. The US believed that if it did not hold onto the Philippines some other Power would move in. Historian Ivan Musicant, who has just written a book on the Spanish-American War, called Empire By Default, says that anything but outright annexation would have led to the partition of the Philippines on the international auction block. If I may digress, and leap forward in history, please recall, that after Pearl Harbor, in December 1941, the Japanese attacked and invaded the Philippines. The Philippines fell to the Japanese in May 1942. The US stayed in the Philippines in 1898 to keep other rival Powers out, and felt that it had fairly won them as the spoils of war. The Filipino factions, who had fought a guerilla war against the Spanish, now fought against the U.S. The most prominent faction was led by Emilio Aguinaldo. This guerilla war against the US began in Feb. 1899 and continued until 1902. 125,000 American soldiers were used to subdue the insurrection. 4,000 Americans died, and 20,000 Filipinos (see Enduring Vision, p. 692-693). In 1902 Congress passed the Philippines Government Act. The authority of the US over the Philippines was vested in a governor-general appointed by the president. But there would be an elected Filipino assembly. The Philippine Islands were promised eventual self-government. WHEN was not specified. American troops remained in the Philippines until they were defeated by the Japanese in 1942, and then returned in 1944. On July 4, 1946, following the end of World War II, the US granted independence to the Philippines.


American troops remained in Cuba after the Spanish-American war of 1898. In March 1901 the US Senate approved an amendment to the annual army appropriation. This language had been drafted by Secretary of War Elihu Root, and sponsored by Senator Orville Platt of Conn. Hence it became known as the Platt Amendment. It authorized the withdrawal of US forces from Cuba only after certain conditions had been met. First, US forces would withdraw once Cuba agreed not to make any treaty with a foreign power that would limit its independence. Second, US forces would withdraw once Cuba agreed not to borrow beyond its means (contract any debt larger than its revenues) so that it could not fall into debt to foreign powers. Third, the US reserved the right to intervene militarily in Cuba, when it saw fit, to preserve Cuban independence and to maintain law and order. Cuba was asked to agree to this. Fourth, the US desired to maintain a naval base and coaling stations in Cuba (Guantanamo). These provisions were known collectively as the Platt Amendment. The Cubans had elected a convention to draft a constitution for independent Cuba, in November 1900, but the US quietly indicated (through General Leonard Wood) that it would not withdraw its forces until the Cuban convention included the Platt provisions in the Cuban constitution. In a way, this was veiled blackmail. In June 1901 the Cuban constitutional convention agreed to these terms in order to get the withdrawal of the American troops, and they were added to the Cuban constitution. The Platt Amendment to the Army appropriation bill now became an addendum to the Cuban constitution. The American troops were withdrawn in May 1902, and in May 1903 the US and Cuba also signed a treaty reaffirming these terms. To leap forward in history, these provisions remained in force until 1934, when the Cuban government insisted that they were no longer acceptable. The Franklin Delano Roosevelt administration agreed to a new treaty between the US and Cuba, in May 1934, abrogating or ending the treaty of 1903.

To repeat, in 1902 the American troops withdrew from Cuba. The US accepted the concept or principle of an independent Cuba, but with the exception that the US reserved the right to intervene in Cuba if it saw the need to do so. The US was a kind of big brother to Cuba, and Cuba was under the protection of the U.S.

In 1898, US investments in Cuba were worth $50 million. By 1920 they had risen to $500 million. Cuba became an economic appendage of the US, and the US became Cuba's major trading partner. The US, in practice, reserved a sort of veto power over the internal and foreign affairs of Cuba.


In 1900 the Congress passed the Foraker Act. It provided that civilian government would be established in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico was initially treated as an unorganized territory of the United States, with a governor general appointed by the president and a legislative council appointed by the governor. The lower house of the territorial legislature would be elected by the people. Later, in 1917, US citizenship was extended to Puerto Rico, and the upper house was also made elective. However the governor was still appointed by the president. Leaping ahead in history, a committee of the Puerto Rican legislature officially requested statehood in 1939 (RB Morris, p. 327), although the request was not implemented at that time. In 1953 President Eisenhower signed a Congressional resolution elevating Puerto Rico to the status of a "free commonwealth voluntarily associated with the U.S." (Puerto Rico elected governor Luis Munoz Marin in 1952).